Final year journalism undergraduate. Passionate about social justice issues, animal welfare and health. Follow her on Twitter @lainefullerton
Heatwaves in Australia kill more people than all other natural disasters combined yet they continue to be the most underrated weather hazard.
Beck Dawson, Sydney’s Chief Resilience Officer, is responsible for preparing the five million people in metropolitan Sydney for any disaster.
“Heat is our single biggest shock in Sydney. In terms of extreme weather, it’s the thing that is most likely to send people to hospital,” Ms Dawson said.
“In the statistics, it’s been the biggest killer of people across the city, compared to things like bushfires, storms and floods, which are our other major disasters across Sydney.”
Ms Dawson is currently working with the State Government, local councils, businesses and community groups on Sydney’s Resilience Strategy, which will determine the best way for Sydney to respond in times of crisis.
Preliminary work on the strategy is expected to come out this year and further work next year when the implementation plan is put together.
Rob Reid, a sports medical physician associated with Sports Medicine Australia, has seen the ways extreme heat affects athletes and people exercising.
“When we have a heatwave our body isn’t acclimatised to that temperature,” Mr Reid said.
“You’re not used to the heat and you’re not used to getting rid of the heat.”
Many people see hot weather as an opportunity to go out but this is extremely tough on our bodies.
“If you’ve got a medical condition or illness you want to back off. You want to make sure you’re hydrated and you want to make sure you’re in appropriate clothing so if you’re trying to get rid of heat you can,” Mr Reid said.
Ms Dawson believes the high hospitalisation rate and death toll during heatwaves is partly due to the fact that citizens aren’t taking necessary precautions.
“People do have this sense that it’s just something we get on with. Sadly, that’s just not true and obviously heat can be a really silent killer in the city,” Ms Dawson said.
The dense concrete, stone and road surfaces in the city and lack of natural elements, causes our environment to become hotter, which is known as the urban heat island effect.
Economists warned this year that the urban heat island effect could warm 25 per cent of cities around the world, by seven degrees Celsius, intensifying climate change.
“The urban heat island effect is effectively creating an island or bubble that’s super hot and that is capturing heat and then radiating back out to itself,” Ms Dawson said.
“There are lots of different materials we can use to reflect that heat. The more trees and greenery we keep in the city the better.”
After Sydney’s warmest summer on record earlier this year, and September 22 becoming the hottest day in Sydney during September, the next few months are expected produce lengthy heatwaves.
The Bureau of Meteorology has anticipated that this summer will be even hotter than last.
Music credit: “942 Miles” by Broke For Free, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.